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Expats join push for Yes vote in referendum

May 11, 2015 • Local, New South Wales, News, Victoria,

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A group of Australia-based Irish citizens, frustrated they do not have a vote in this month’s marriage equality referendum in Ireland, have found ways to contribute anyway.

“We set up Irish YesEquality Australia to give voice to all of the Irish people here who can’t vote because they are living outside Ireland,” says spokesman Colm O’Callaghan.

“This is to help them give voice to their views and beliefs on marriage equality, even if they can’t vote. This is about trying to empower them to do their bit and to contribute to the debate.”

The group has two main goals. “One is to encourage and draw attention to donations online, which can be done really easily through the YesEquality campaign. The second is to encourage the Irish abroad to call home and talk to people about the issue, about how they are going to vote,” he said.

Mr O’Callaghan is very disappointed he cannot vote in the referendum. “There is no postal vote allowed, which is really devastating for so many of us. It is such a relevant and key issue in our lives personally, not just for me but for so many Irish people in Australia. I’m 31 now, and spent the first 27 years of my life in Ireland. For those of us who spent most of our adult lives in Ireland it is very hard not to have a chance to vote,” he said.

The group’s campaign is already paying off.

“We have got a really overwhelmingly positive response from Irish people across Australia, both heterosexual and homosexual, who are interested in the debate. It was very clear straight away that many people were feeling the same; powerless and sad that they can’t have a vote and wanting to do or contribute something, be it donating money or raising awareness with their family and friends at home,” said Mr O’Callaghan.

Campaigners gather in St Kilda over the weekend to raise funds for the YesEquality movement. Pic: Lisa Colleran

Campaigners gather in St Kilda over the weekend to raise funds for the YesEquality movement. Pic: Lisa Colleran

“So I think lots of Irish people who have responded to us have felt very empowered through helping create a forum to contribute to the debate.”

He says what is happening in Ireland has a wider resonance. “The four of us who set this up all have partners who are Australian, and we also know from our Australian friends, our social group, that they are interested in what is happening in Ireland. They want marriage equality in Australia too. This is a global issue, the debate in Ireland affects the debate in Australia, and a vote in Ireland affects the vote around the world,” said Mr O’Callaghan.

He says some people still have an archaic view of Irishness. “They still associate it with leprechauns and St Patrick’s Day and Riverdance. I think the debate around the referendum becoming international has informed people around the world that this country which people imagine to be old-fashioned and conservative and deeply rooted in Catholicism, with old moral views on homosexuality and marriage equality, is different [to what they thought].

“I think that’s another reason why this referendum is so crucial to Irish people all around the world, it’s about how the rest of the world sees us and understands that we are a very liberal country now and we’ve come such a long way over the last 30 years, especially since homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993,” said Mr O’Callaghan.

He thinks the vote will go down to the wire. “Friends of mine campaigning door to door in Dublin and around the country tell me that it will be very tight. There is a very silent No in any country. People holding a more conservative view in this kind of topic are usually more silent in the debate.”

Mr O’Callaghan is, however, pleased with the reaction to the negative No campaign. “The responses to the arguments from the No side are really kind of liberal. I think many people who aren’t gay or who don’t have a ‘normal’ family or a family unit that’s based on the traditional way for a mother and father to be together, have taken offence to the idea and the concept of that being a reason to vote No. That’s a positive for the Yes campaign,” he said.

His message for waverers is simple. “I would say if they believed in a fair and equal world for everyone, they would vote Yes, and to be voting No would mean that they inherently don’t believe in fairness and equality for everybody in Irish society,” said Mr O’Callaghan.

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